I have a dark history with houseplants. I adore them, but I kill them. My list of offenses against my poor houseplants is long and tragic. I have been known to forget to water them, and also to drown them. I have mistakenly put those that need lots of light back in dark corners, and the shade lovers in southern windows with all-day sun.

But now, I’m turning over a new leaf. I no longer want to treat houseplants like fresh cut flowers, with an estimated life expectancy of about a week. I not only want them to stay alive, I want them to be healthy and grow.

My renewed determination to keep my plants alive occurred last fall. I had sunk way too much money into our outdoor planters to let the plants die when the weather turned cold. So Dan and I dragged the huge pots of mother-in-law tongues, which normally live on our porch, over to my mom’s cottage next door. I just wanted them to stay alive until we could drag them back outside in the spring.

Then, something absolutely crazy happened. I didn’t kill them! In fact, they thrived. One day when Dan was working at mom’s cottage, he told me, “Those plants make the room. You should keep them there.” I don’t know what shocked me more: Dan’s commenting on decorating, or the realization that I had helped a plant flourish. It was decided: The plants will stay put, and we will be back at the nursery, getting new outdoor plants this spring.

In the world of interior decorating, houseplants are trending. Fig trees are particularly hot right now. Which, I am proud to tell you, I have also not killed. One is living at mom’s cottage, too, happy as a clam. The simple living room is washed in neutrals, so the bright green leaves give a great kick of color.

When I’m at the grocery store, I like to pick up plants that catch my fancy, like miniature rose bushes. The old me placed them in a pretty cachepot and hoped for the best. The new me will find out the amount of light and water the plant needs, and actually take care of it.

It feels incredibly hypocritical for me to share tips on how to care for houseplants, given my checkered past. But after I did a quick search online for easy-to-follow tips on helping houseplants thrive, I wanted to pass on my findings, in case you have dubious plant skills, too.

The experts say:

Find the right level of light. Check the plant’s tag, or do some quick research, for the kind of light your plant needs. Then, place them accordingly.

Dust them. This one surprised me. But, plants get dusty, too, just like everything else in your house. The accumulated dust on their leaves not only looks bad, it blocks their sunlight.

Water correctly. Not all plants need the same amount of water and humidity.

Watch out for drafts. Keep your plants from cold drafty doors and windows, and from heat vents.

Add fertilizer. Plants need to eat, too.

Watch for insects or disease. Check for early signs, so the critters don’t spread to other plants in your house.

Repot when necessary. If your plants grow, they are going to need bigger accommodations.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at

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